UNITED STATES: Parents to get court backing for their battle against the prescription of mood-altering drugs. Stephen Phillips reports
Law-makers across the US are drafting legislation to ban teachers from recommending drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac for unruly pupils.
Parents and guardians are complaining that teachers pressured them into seeking psychiatric diagnoses and drugs for their children.
Teachers have refused to allow disruptive students back into classrooms or threatened to classify them as "special needs" cases unless they were medicated, it is claimed.
New York, Arizona and Wisconsin are poised to vote on proposed laws later this year following a ruling by Connecticut in May "prohibiting school personnel from recommending psychotropic drugs for any child".
Iowa and Michigan are also said to be considering bills, while education authorities in at least another five states have investigated reports of teachers pressing parents to medicate students.
"People hold teachers in high esteem - if they say that a child needs to go on a drug, parents take this as gospel," said Representative Lenny Winkler, architect of the Connecticut Act. "Parents tell their doctors that the school says 'little Johnny' needs to take Ritalin and doctors are failing to do their homework."
The Connecticut law does not stop school medical staff from recommending that students be evaluated by doctors, or teachers from consulting a doctor about a child with parents' consent. "I don't have a problem with Ritalin as long as it is prescribed properly," said Rep Winkler.
In 1999, 10.6 million Ritalin prescriptions were written in the US. The Texas Board of Education said a million students in that state alone were taking Ritalin or related drugs last year.
US educational psychologists admit that schools, swept up in the rush to diagnose disruptive behaviour as attention deficithyperactivity disorder, have embraced Ritalin. "Many teachers have got on the Ritalin bandwagon," said Ted Feinberg, assistant executive director of the National Association for School Psychologists.
However, he added that teachers were now being unfairly singled out amid growing concern at the perceived inappropriate medication of youngsters. "It's not solely schools. Parents too are demanding their child be labelled ADHD and prescribed Ritalin."
But Mike Mikalsen, research assistant to Wisconsin Representative Stephen Nass, co-author of the proposed law there, said:"Teachers are attempting to deal with behavioural problems by doping kids to make them more controllable."
The Wisconsin bill is the outcome of a six-month investigation into prescription drug use by children, which heard parents' complaints. The bill, to be introduced in the state's legislature next month, would "prohibit non-medical staff from even bringing up the subject", said Mr Mikalsen.